What Should I Eat When I'm Breastfeeding?
You don't need to eat any special or different foods while you're breastfeeding. However, you should try to follow a healthy, balanced diet for breastfeeding moms, which includes:
- Starchy foods, such as bread and rice. Choose wholegrain varieties, for added fibre.
- Plenty of fruit and vegetables.
- Some protein, such as lean meat, eggs and pulses. Have at least two portions of fish a week, including oily varieties, such as salmon.
- Some low-fat dairy food, such as a yoghurt or a glass of milk.
Still asking yourself why and what to eat when breastfeeding? Eating well when you’re nursing means getting a variety of nutritious food. And since a varied diet changes the taste and smell of your milk, it will expose your baby to many different. In fact, expanding your little one’s culinary horizons well before she starts solids might even minimise the potential for pickiness.
Here’s what to aim to consume each day to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need and offering your baby a taste for the healthy stuff early on:
- Protein: 3 servings
- Calcium: 5 servings (or 1,500 mg—especially important since breastfeeding draws from your calcium reserves)
- Iron-rich foods: 1 or more servings
- Vitamin C: 2 servings
- Green leafy and yellow vegetables/fruits: 3 to 4 servings
- Other fruits and veggies: 1 or more servings
- Whole grains and complex carbohydrates: 3 or more servings
- High-fat foods: Small amounts (you don't need as much as you did during pregnancy)
- Omega 3s: 2 to 3 servings per week, to promote baby's brain growth (that’s 240 to 340 grams of low-mercury fish like wild salmon and sardines; you can also get omega 3s in DHA-enriched eggs)
- Postnatal vitamin: Daily, as advised by your healthcare professional
How much water to drink?
Aim for 2.5 Liters every day — especially in the weeks after birth, since it will help your body to recover. To ensure you’re getting enough, a good rule of thumb is to drink a cup of water at every nursing session.
Keep in mind your milk supply won’t be affected unless you’re seriously dehydrated, but your urine will become darker and scanter. Not drinking enough can set you up for health issues including urinary tract infections (UTIs), constipation and fatigue.
What Not to Eat While Breastfeeding
When you're breastfeeding, there's a lot more that’s on the menu than off — with a few caveats:
- Excessive caffeine: One or two cups of coffee, tea or fizzy drinks a day won’t affect your baby (and during those early, sleep deprived months, it might be just what you need to keep going). More than that, however, may lead to both of you feeling jittery, irritable and sleepless. Also, excessive caffeine has been linked to colic and acid reflux in some babies.
- High-mercury fish: Avoid high-mercury fish including shark, tilefish and mackerel, and limit tuna to canned white, 170 grams per week.
- Choose low -fat dairy and meat
- Processed foods: As a general rule, check labels and try to avoid processed foods that contain long lists of additives.
Foods to watch out for
There are a few additional foods you should consume with care when you’re nursing:
- Herbal remedies. Few studies have been done on the safety of herbal remedies, so little is known how they affect a nursing baby — plus these supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA. To stay safe, ask your doctor before taking any herbal remedy, and think twice before drinking herbal tea or breastfeeding brews. For now, stick to reliable brands in varieties that are considered safe during lactation (orange spice, peppermint, raspberry, red bush, chamomile and rosehip). Read labels carefully to make sure other herbs haven't been added to the brew.
- Some sugar substitutes. When it comes to sugar substitutes, the only one to avoid is saccharine. Otherwise you’ve got plenty of safe choices: Splenda and Equal are all considered safe during lactation (though it’s probably best to use Equal in moderation and avoid entirely if you or your baby have phenylketonuria (PKU).
- Non-organic foods. Choose organic fruits, vegetables, dairy, poultry, meat, eggs and grain whenever you have the choice and can afford the usually steeper price. But don’t drive yourself crazy — a small amount of pesticides and other chemicals will end up in your diet despite your best efforts, and that’s OK.
Allergies in breastfed babies
A very few babies (two to three in 100) are actually allergic to foods in their moms’ diets. The most common offender is cow's milk; others are soy, nuts, wheat and peanuts. In addition to extreme fussiness and crying, babies who have a real food allergy will display other symptoms, including:
- Occasional to frequent vomiting
- Loose, watery (or mucousy) stools (possibly tinged with blood)
- Lack of weight gain
- Eczema, hives, wheezing and/or nasal discharge or stuffiness
If think your child might have a food allergy, and especially if you have a family history of allergies, talk to your doctor. He or she will likely recommend eliminating a potential problem food for two to three weeks to check if it’s truly the culprit, but you should not restrict your food intake without proper guidance.